Potraz rakes in over $120m Dr Gift Machengete

Herald Correspondent
THE Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe has collected over $120 million since the introduction of the multi-currency system in 2009 under the Universal Services Fund (USF), director-general Dr Gift Machengete has said.

In an interview last week, Dr Machengete (pictured right) said in addition to the $120 million, the USF also generated $10,6 million in interest from investments.

“The Universal Services Fund’s collections since inception have two distinct categories, namely hyperinflation era and the multi-currency era,” he said. “The hyperinflation era ended at the beginning of 2009 as the multi-currency era commenced.

“Collections during the hyperinflation era were rendered meaningless in that there were many changes where a varying number of zeros were removed in an attempt to manage the figures, primarily for reporting purposes.

“Equally, due to galloping inflation, the collections were not meaningfully deployable. Thus, we do not believe there is any benefit in adding up the various levels of the quintillions, zillions, etc. However, audited financial statements are available for that era.

“Collections during the multi-currency era, from 2009 to 2017, were about $120 million. In addition, USF generated $10,6 million as interest from investments. Thus total resources generated from 2009 to December 2017 were about $130,6 million.”
Dr Machengete said the USF financial resources had been deployed to fulfil the fund’s mandate.

“The resources available were way below the country’s huge demand for universal access to communication services,” he said. “Hence the available resources were prioritised and disbursed towards the e-learning programme which included internet connectivity, deployment of computers and the related training to educational institutions with a bias towards the underserved areas.

“Primary and secondary schools were among the major beneficiaries. The programme has continued to date and is underway.”
Dr Machengete said the funds had also been used for the deployment of passive infrastructure (towers) and this included the construction of base stations in remote areas where all operators installed their active equipment and connected communities that had no access, thus bridging the digital divide and providing financial inclusivity.

He said such sites included Manama, Maitengwe, Hangwa, Chiunye, Zibungululu, Chiodza, Chidodo, Pfungwe, Makhosa, Nemashakwe, Neuso and Dlamini.

Dr Machengete said e-Government projects that included the provision of various ICT gadgets, software and hardware to Government institutions to improve service delivery had also been implemented through the use of the fund.

Community Information Centres, which involved the renovation and construction of facilities in post offices across the country to create information centres where the surrounding communities would access internet for various ICT services, were established.

He said the telemedicine project – which involved linking clinics to district hospitals, district hospitals to provincial hospitals and provincial hospitals to referral national hospitals – had also been launched through the use of the same funds.

“Health institutions in Manicaland were linked to Parirenyatwa in a pilot project that is expected to be rolled out across the country in the near future as more resources become available,” said Dr Machengete.

“Just over this weekend, a trainer is expected into the country to conduct a train the trainer training under the telemedicine project.

“In addition, the equipment for the pilot project arrived this week and will be deployed to all the identified 16 sites comprising 12 remote/rural clinics, two district and provincial hospitals in Manicaland and two major referral hospitals in Harare, Parirenyatwa and Harare general hospitals. This project is being implemented in collaboration with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).”

Dr Machengete dismissed claims that POTRAZ was abusing funds.
“Indeed, such allegations have been made regarding USF funds,” he said. “All USF disbursements have been made towards fulfilling its mandate.

“These accusations are unfounded and may be driven by mere speculation, lack of information or outright malice. For instance, claims that USF funded the Zimbabwe Football Association is baseless. No funding was ever provided to ZIFA by USF.
“Part of the confusion stems from the failure to distinguish POTRAZ from USF, which are two separate statutory bodies.

Hence, where POTRAZ bailed out ZIFA with a loan for the national soccer team`s participation at the Africa Cup of Nations some sections of the society viewed this as USF funding non-core activities.

“We have clarified this position over and over again and we will not tire as long as there are stakeholders who seek to know the correct position.”

He said UDF funds were always audited.
“The USF is audited annually by the Auditor-General’s Office and the financial statements are up to date,” said Dr Machengete. “In 2017, the fund held its annual general meeting and all its activities were found to have been done well above board. As both the authority and the USF, we do not have anything to hide.”

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